A Sour Approach to Secrecy

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Speaking of the National Security Archive, there's a fascinating test case about the vast difference between Clinton and Bush declassification—in 1999, Bubba's administration released the complete 1975 biographical sketch [PDF] of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by the Defense Intelligence Agency, with no deletions. In 2003, the Bush Administration happened to release the very same document, only this time with "large sections" blacked out on National Security grounds. What were they? Here's how the Washington Post described them:

For example, both versions describe him as "Caucasian" with an "oval face and a mustache." We're allowed to know he wears reading glasses and is "quiet." But the new version has blacked out this part: [WARNING: If You Do Not Have An "Eyes Only" Clearance, Do Not Continue Reading!] "Mild-mannered; very businesslike. Very honest, hard working, dedicated. A devoted, tolerant husband and father; lives very modestly. Drinks scotch and pisco sours; smokes cigarettes; likes parties. Sports interests are fencing, boxing and horseback riding. . . . Enjoys discussing world military problems and would respond to a frank, man-to-man approach."

Pisco sours?

It's always worth remembering—when the government claims National Security for classifying (and refusing to de-classify) documents, as the Bush Administration has done in record numbers, it is frequently lying.

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  1. Maybe fencing is a code word for something.

  2. Sounds to me like a CIA agent got to drink scotch, smoke, and play sports with Pinochet, and they didn’t want to admit that the taxpayers had to foot the bill 🙂

  3. Here’s a link to a recipe for Pisco Sours:

    http://www.webtender.com/db/drink/1328

    It’s almost Friday–go mix yourself a couple of dozen.

  4. Well, the redacted parts are value judgments of a personal nature, taking the measure of the man.
    The Bushie redactor apparently thought it would be “giving the game away” to release that info.
    Do we really want everyone in the world to know how our government really thinks? How we size up foreign leaders? Maybe. But maybe we’d be better off if we played our cards a little closer to the vest.
    The Bush administration has previously caught flak for being, if anything, OVERLY frank about such things.

  5. From that fine drink Web site:

    “Pisco is distilled from grapes, usually with high sugar content, grown in the warm and sunny regions of Chile and Peru, and is technically a brandy. The Pisco is then aged for several years in oak or clay containers. The Peruvian Pisco is somewhat drier than the Chilean.

    There is a growing trade dispute between Peru and Chile over who has the right to use the name Pisco, and both countries claim it to be their national drink.

    The most popular brand in Chile is Pisco Control. Other brands are Pisco Capel and Alto del Carmen.

    45.0% (90 proof)”

  6. “Do we really want everyone in the world to know how our government really thinks? How we size up foreign leaders?”

    It should be noted that this was an assessment which is nearly thirty years old made by individuals who are likely either retired or dead. This is a classic case – like the Nixon photo with Elvis mentioned in a thread below – of over-classification. Furthermore, given that this assessment is already out there in the world, its hard for me to fathom why – even if your assessment is correct – witholding said information makes one wit of difference.

  7. Yeah, I won’t argue with that, G. G.
    I was just trying to imagine the reasoning behind the decision. Whoever had the job of redacting that info probably didn’t know it had previously been released.
    A lot of seemingly sinister government behaviour is actually just run-of-the-mill bureaucratic ass-covering and inefficiency.
    And before we libertarians complain too much about governmental fecklessness, we should remember that the LAST thing any of us really want is a ruthlessly efficient Federal government.

  8. Bush has a thing for good versus evil. Perhaps to the “for us or against us” administration, it painted Pinochet as something less than perfect evil.

    Can’t have known evil men being exposed as having a human side.

  9. A pisco sour (pisco, lime, sugar if I recall correctly) is very similar to a mojito (light rum, lime, sugar, mint leaves). Very tasty and refreshing on a hot day.

  10. After 5 years, publish everything.

  11. C’mon, you expect declassified documents to have some parts blacked out. Otherwise you’d get suspicious that they were hiding soemthing.

  12. Matt, you could have left out the word ‘frequently’.

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